Group urges pregnant women to maintain good dental care

Dr. Winifred Booker
Dr. Winifred Booker (Baltimore Sun)

With so many things to think about, expectant mothers sometimes neglect their teeth, but this can have implications for their unborn babies. In response, the advocacy group Maryland Dental Action Coalition is educating women about proper oral hygiene and dietary habits through an effort called Healthy Teeth, Healthy Kids. The group's aim is to develop good habits by mothers and children and to reduce early childhood cavities, said Dr. Winifred J. Booker, an Owings Mills pediatric dentist who has served on several state committees and professional organizations and is currently a spokeswoman for the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry.

What's different about teeth and gums during pregnancy?

By far, the most common dental complaint of pregnant women is bleeding gingiva, or bleeding gums. During pregnancy, your gums may become inflamed or infected in part due to all of the hormonal changes. When your gums become inflamed, the condition is referred to as gingivitis, but untreated gingivitis can develop into periodontal disease, a serious form of gum disease. Periodontitis during pregnancy, if left untreated, has been shown to contribute to pre-term, low birth weight infants.

Tooth mobility is sometimes experienced by the expectant mother and can also be a sign of periodontal disease. Removal of plaque and local gingival irritants and delivery of the baby typically result in reversal of the tooth mobility experienced during pregnancy. Additionally, for women who experience morning sickness during pregnancy, the stomach acids coming into contact with teeth produce erosion which can eventually cause tooth enamel to wear away. Rinsing with a teaspoon of baking soda mixed with water can neutralize the acid insult to the teeth.

Is it safe to have dental cleanings, advanced dental work or X-rays while you're pregnant?

Being pregnant comes with many responsibilities including vigilant oral hygiene care. It is important to continue seeing your dentist during pregnancy for oral examinations and cleanings. However, routine general dentistry should usually only be done in the second and third trimester of pregnancy. For most women, routine dental visits are safe during pregnancy, but keep your dental office updated when you make your appointment. Be sure to tell your dentist about any changes you have noticed in your oral health such as swelling, redness, or bleeding. Dental radiographs are safe for pregnant patients, provided protective measures for high-speed film, a lead apron and a thyroid collar are used. Dental x-rays are sometimes necessary if you suffer a dental emergency or need a dental problem diagnosed. Patients who are concerned about radiography during pregnancy should be reassured that in all cases requiring such imaging, the dental staff will practice the As Low As Reasonably Achievable (ALARA) principle and that only radiographs necessary for diagnosis will be obtained.

What are some home care steps that are important to take?

Good daily oral care is vital. Brush your teeth at least twice a day and after every meal if possible. Using a fluoride toothpaste, cleaning between your teeth using dental floss once a day, eating a balanced diet, and limiting between-meal snacks are important routine steps to follow. Visit your dentist regularly for a professional cleaning and checkup. If you need help controlling plaque, your dentist may recommend an antimicrobial or fluoride mouth rinse.

Are there nutritional steps to take to protect your teeth and your baby's oral health?

It is always important to eat a well-balanced diet to preserve the health of your teeth. During pregnancy, what you eat affects the development of your baby, including the teeth. A baby's teeth begin to develop between the third and sixth months of the pregnancy. Make smart food choices to help you maintain good oral health throughout your pregnancy for your child have the best chance of developing strong teeth. If you snack, do so in moderation. When you do snack, choose foods that are nutritious for you and your baby such as raw fruits and vegetables, yogurt, or cheese, and make sure to follow your physician's advice regarding diet.

When do babies first need to see a dentist, and what's important to do at home even before they have teeth?

Dental problems can begin early. The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry encourages parents and other care providers to help every child establish a dental home by 12 months of age, or within six months of the eruption of the first tooth if that happens before their first birthday.

Here are key tips for the parent to help avoid early childhood caries (also known as baby bottle tooth decay): Do not allow children to fall asleep with a bottle, sippy or no-spill cup filled with milk or juice; avoid at-will nighttime breast-feeding after the first primary teeth begin to erupt; encourage children to drink from a cup as they approach their first birthday; never dip a pacifier into honey or anything sweet before giving it to a baby; even before the teeth come in, it's time to start brushing your baby's tongue using an ultra soft pediatric toothbrush; baby teeth should be brushed at least twice a day using a soft, age-appropriate sized toothbrush using a "smear" of fluoridated toothpaste; it is of major importance that parents and caregivers take care of their own teeth so that cavity causing bacteria are not as easily transferred to children; and cleaning bottle nipples, pacifiers and eating utensils with your own mouth before giving them to children must not be done because this can also transmit the adults' bacteria to the child.

Is there help in Maryland for adults and children who can't afford to see a dentist?

The Maryland Healthy Smiles Program (Maryland's Medicaid Program) covers dental cost during pregnancy and for children from birth to 20 years old. For more information parents, guardians and expectant mothers can visit the HealthyTeethHealthyKids.org website or call 1-855-45-TEETH toll free to find out how to become enrolled.


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